Letting Go of Spender’s Guilt


Talking about spending this week. Monday it was our year of tracking our finances and Tuesday it was my luxuries. Today: letting go of my spender’s guilt.

One thing I’ve struggled with since shedding a lot of our stuff is letting myself buy things.

I get anxious when I realize clothes need replacing or that I want to get a few things to personalize our apartment and make it feel like home.

I worry I will buy the wrong thing.

I worry I will waste money.

I worry it will break or not work or be in a donation bin in a year.

When you’ve seen thousands of dollars worth of stuff leave your home, stuff you never used or really liked, you start to look at what you buy much more closely.

Sometimes you look too closely.

I actually have to relax my grip on not-shopping now. It’s a strange turn of events from my online shopping days and the constant arrival of packages in the mail.

I’ve been missing fruit smoothies since we moved here a year ago. I have nothing to blend or whip with in our rental kitchen so I’ve been using a small whisk for whipping cream. I even attempted homemade mayonnaise by whisk but a forearm cramp lead me to abandon the endeavor.

So I bought a blender the other week. I bought it here on the island and when I asked about their price match policy they didn’t have one so they offered me 10% off. I didn’t bother looking at dozens of places online for the best deal. I read a handful of reviews, compared features and saw that this one met my needs and had a five year warranty.

I spent more on this blender than I would have in the past. This thing crushes ice and will whip cream and could probably blend batter if I needed it to. It’s done a great job with my almost daily smoothies of frozen fruit, banana and yogurt. Even if we end up only getting a few years use out of it ourselves before moving back to Canada we can pass it on to someone else over here that will put more miles on it. It won’t be in a landfill.

That’s one of the things I try and take comfort in when I buy things now. Even if I don’t get the full life out of something, someone else will. 

When I buy things now I try and focus on just having things that we like, that we use and that will last.

Someday I might not like them anymore but if they are well made someone else will.

Someday we might not use them as much but if I keep them in good shape someone else will.

Has anyone else had to relax their grip on not-buying after letting go of a lot of stuff?

My Luxuries

Source: flickr.com via Rachel on Pinterest


Talking about spending this week. Yesterday it was a year of tracking our finances. Today: my luxuries.

Sometimes I think people get the impression that because I’m trying to live with less stuff I’m also living with less luxury in my life.

If you think of luxury items as being expensive jeans and designer handbags and shoes… then yes, I don’t have those luxuries in my life.

But we do have extras. Since we paid off all of our non-mortgage debt we’ve made room for some little and big things that we really enjoy.

My Eyebrows

Sara made a comment on yesterday’s post about our grooming spend and that she was happy to see we had little luxuries mixed into our budget. My husband gets a goatee trim and I get my eyebrows waxed and tinted every 4-6 weeks.

This is a luxury but I really hope we always have the funds for these little things. As you can see from these photos, an eyebrow shape and tint really helps me look awake. It gives my face more expression. I don’t wear a lot of make-up so having defined eyebrows let’s me wear even less.

I spend £15/$22 every six weeks on this luxury.

Cherries. Strawberries. Organic Milk. Organic celery.

We’ve actually been spending more on food in the last few months. I’ve been buying organic when I can and splurging on sausages made from pasture raised pork. I’m trying to eat wild salmon once a week.

Some of these groceries are noticeably better in taste. Some aren’t. We don’t have as many organic or locally produced options here on the Isle so I just do my best with what is available.

It’s a luxury to buy the best quality food I can for my family but I think it’s worth it.

We spend a lot on groceries. A lot. But we make it work in our household budget and, most importantly, we try to have almost zero food waste. Now that we have a freezer we almost never throw anything out. Vegetables or fruit that are about to go bad are chopped up and frozen for soups, stews or smoothies.

Personal Training

Two months ago we hired a personal trainer to come to our home two mornings a week and train my husband. This is a big expense. But we know it works and I can’t think of anything better to invest money in than health.

After a few weeks I decided to join in and now we’re both lunging and lifting together while Henry eats breakfast and laughs at us.

I’ve had a lot of guilt and bad feelings around my fitness in the last year. Despite many attempts – a gym membership, buying a kettle bell – I haven’t found a strength training program I can stick to. It’s always been easier for me to go for a run than to push myself to do 100 burpees. This post from One Fit mom made me feel a bit better. If she can’t do these workouts alone I shouldn’t feel too bad about having the same struggle.

As I get older I need the strength training more and more. My lower back is shredded from my years as an athlete and I need that core strength and leg strength to keep it all together. I’m already feeling less back pain after just a few weeks of training.

In the future we’d like to cut down to one training session a week and then do another 1-2 workouts one our own.

Cost: very high. But, surprisingly, for the service we are getting we would probably pay twice as much in Vancouver. Gotta look at the upside, right?


I mentioned that we are considering cutting way back on travel in 2013. We’d like to not only save a bit more but also see if we can enjoy life without an off island trip every three months. Of course we can! It’s just so tempting being so close to so many interesting places.

But this year we have taken full advantage of direct flights off the island. As a family or on solo trips we have been to Dublin a few times, London, Liverpool, Manchester, Edinburgh and have a few more trips planned for this summer. We also went to the Dominican Republic in April for a sun vacation.

This is by far our biggest luxury. While it’s easy to convince ourselves that we need to see everything now, while we’re in such close proximity to Western Europe, I think it’s too easy to justify these trips. We have financial goals and responsibilities. Do we want to see it all or knock a few years off our mortgage?

The old wants vs. needs question.

The great thing about all of our luxuries is that we know they’re just that. They’re not needs. We’ll be able to easily cut them if our circumstances change or we decide we want to buckle down for bigger savings.

What are your luxuries? Do you think you could easily cut them if you had to?

Do You Know What Your Life Costs?


Note: I’ve decided to not completely disclose our finances here. So I’ve included percentages instead of £ or $. You’ll still have an idea of how we spend and save but it gives my family some privacy.

The summer of 2005 was my ‘summer of dating.’ I was finally single and living in a big city and not training 18 times a week. There were no long distance or lifestyle barriers to looking for a mate.

It ended up being my last stint of dating because I met my future husband that August. But before him I met a lot of interesting men. Interesting but not a love match.

One man that I went on a handful of dates with confessed on our first meeting that he tracked every penny he spent. That he could tell me at that moment exactly how much money was in his wallet and checking account.

Bizarre, I thought, but smiled and said, good for you. This guy’s financial savvy and intensity was un-chic to me. If I can be honest it wasn’t that I found it extremely nerdy to know exactly how much money you had, it was that it made me think about how out of touch I was with my own finances.

I had student loans and credit cards and couldn’t tell you how much was on either of them or what the interest rate was. I could give a guess at what I spent on groceries and dining out each month but it would just be a guess. At that point in my life I was earning and spending and just hoping it all evened out in the end.

A Year of Tracking Our Finances

Of course, now I know exactly what we spend. I know how much groceries ran us every month for the last year. I know what those small coffees out or a lunch on the run cost us.

I’d been taking stabs at tracking spending since February of 2010, using spreadsheets and different apps, but it never really clicked. One of the reasons it wasn’t working was that I was doing it alone. My husband wasn’t on board with tracking until we moved overseas a year ago in May of 2011. With a predictable income he was ready to star tracking what we spent so he found a spending app that we could both use. For the record we use Smart Budget and you can read my review of it here.

What We Spent in the Last Year

Our tracking tool isn’t perfect.

And our use of it could be a lot better.

For instance, we put a lot of things under Miscellaneous. A lot. Things like passport application fees and the 20p it costs to use the toilet near the park we frequent. We’ve also used it to track money we wired back to Canada. I’d like to get a better idea of where that money is going so I’ll be adding a few new categories to our budgeting app.
Miscellaneous – 36.2% Money wired home (majority – 20%), random expenses and purchases.

Accommodation – 24.4% Includes rent, utilities and some random items like buying a vacuum when we moved.

Food 10.8%

Child 4.8% Includes part-time nursery/daycare fees, classes, drop-in fees and any clothing or toys.

Travel 6.2 %

Dining Out 4.2 %

Casual Spending 3.2 % Coffee, movies, rides at the fair, etc.

Public Transport 1.4%

Health/Gym 1.3%

Chris’s Work Lunches: 0.9%

Grooming 1% Hair cuts, eyebrow wax and tint, husband occasionally gets a goatee trim.

Clothing 1%

Dry Cleaning .7 %

Gifts .4 %

Mobile Phones .4 %

Charity .1 % This is random contributions. Our main charity contribution will be in the fall and we set aside money every month for it.

What We Saved in the Last Year

We have two focuses right now: our mortgage in Canada and building our emergency fund.

Our emergency fund is now at six months of low cost living in Canada (as in we live with family while continuing to rent out our property there). One of the reasons we will need a considerable amount of cash is the mortgage/rental income short fall talked about below. I think our goal is to double our emergency fund which we should accomplish in three years if we continue to put 5% of our annual income towards it.

We’re throwing everything else at our mortgage. We renegotiated a lower interest rate back in November and increased our payments by 15%. The shortfall between what our rental income and mortgage, strata fees and property tax is considerable (one of the reasons we are building a bigger emergency fund). We just made our first extra payment on the mortgage and are hoping to do a few more this year.

The other two areas of saving are our son’s education fund and our charity fund. We upped both of those contributions in the spring when my husband received a raise.

Here’s a breakdown of how we have split out our savings in the last year:

Emergency Fund: 70%

General Savings: 14% This account fluctuates based on contributions to our emergency fund and sending money back to Canada.

Education Fund: 10.5%

Charity Fund: 5.5% We will probably spend/gift this money out in the fall.

Confession: it would take too much time for me to breakdown what we have put on our mortgage and how much we have sent back to cover our short fall. It’s considerable.

Our other life expenses.

The other thing we haven’t been tracking very well is our financial life in Canada. We don’t have a UK credit card but we do have a Canadian one. Occasionally we will have expenses from our life here, hello iTunes, that go on our Canadian card.

It’s all quite confusing and I’d like to put some better systems in place so we have a grasp on our expenses at home. Right now we have recurring expenses like our life insurance policy that just get rolled into costs when we send money back for the mortgage shortfall.

The other interesting piece is that Chris and I have sporadic income that goes into our Canadian account. This income helps with the mortgage shortfall (yeah!) but we pay taxes on that income here in the Isle of Man. So some months we squirrel away money from our general living funds into an account for Isle of Man taxes.

It pays to know what you spend.

When I think back to the date that tracked all of his expenses I now see that it was neither geeky or obsessive. He knew what he spent and what he earned but it didn’t stop him from enjoying his life. I remember he told me that at one point he consciously decided to go into a bit of debt so that he could do a big trip he had been planning for years. He knew he could return to his job and be out of debt a few months later.

We’ve really enjoyed living in the Isle of Man in the last year. Some of it we may have enjoyed too much. Our dining out spending surprises me. Mostly because we don’t eat out that much. But restaurants here are expensive. For example we were out for a friend’s birthday with a few couples the other week. The restaurant was very nice but not white glove service. I ordered the Nasi Goreng and it was £15/$22. Ouch. In a similar restaurant in Canada it would have been £8/$12.

Our other big expense is travel. We bought tickets for the Olympics a few months back, my husband went on a solo trip to Dublin in May and recently to Manchester and I’m meeting my sister in Glasgow for a weekend soon. All of this has been within our generous travel savings but that savings account is at zero right now. We’ll have to reign it in if we want to save for a fall trip.

We’re thinking of cutting way back on travel in 2013 and just doing a trip back to Canada and a visit to Liverpool once or twice.

It’s not just because we could use that money elsewhere. We also want to sharpen our skills for living on less money. We want to easily be able to give up our luxuries – travel, dining out – when we need to.

Any other budget and spending geeks out there? Do you do an annual review of your spending?

No Machine Will Change Your Life


The other week I went to a demonstration dinner for a kitchen appliance called a Thermomix. A friend wanted to buy one and was hosting a dinner so we could all see the miracle machine in action.

I’ll admit it: I was impressed.

It could make bread dough and sorbet and steam veggies and make lump free cheese sauce. All quite quickly as well. It could crush ice and turn  sugar into icing sugar. One of the selling points was that you could make a four course meal in an hour. Hot damn!

We don’t have many kitchen appliances here. No blender. No bread machine. No electric wok. My Kitchen Aid mixer and food processor are in storage in Canada. I could have brought them overseas and used them here with an electrical converter but I decided against it. I knew it wouldn’t be good for the machines and I’d probably burn out a few expensive converters along the way.

As I watched the demonstration of the Thermomix I started to get sucked in. Of course, this machine would do it all. Dinner would be on the table in no time flat. No more standing at the stove stirring risotto for half an hour.

And look at the savings. The demonstrator had a guide to show much money you could save making your own icing sugar and bread. Supposedly you could save the cost of the machine in the first year.

Oh, right. The cost.

Around £800/$1250 USD.

Hot damn is right.

The cost snapped me out of my revery. I also started to look at the list of things you could make. Smooth soups. I like mine chunky. Bread dough. We don’t eat a lot of bread. Sorbet and ice cream. We don’t keep either of those in our freezer (if we get ice cream it’s in the summer at the ice cream shop in town).

And, call me weird, I like making cheese sauce from scratch. I find cooking to be meditative. I find it to be relaxing. I like chopping and stirring. I usually have good ideas when I’m cooking. The other night I made a cake for my husband’s birthday in my post-child-going-to-bed leisure time. I enjoyed it.

Also, I realized I’m already getting dinner on the table with what I have. I’ve already got my short cuts. The biggest one being once or twice a week I make a double batch of whatever is for dinner and we eat it the next night.

My shortcut is leftovers. Not a machine that costs over a thousand dollars.

The friend that is buying a Thermomix is dabbling in Veganism and I can see that the machine would be useful for her. But I don’t need to turn carrots into pate. My kitchen works just fine with what we have. I seem to get dinner on the table without a Thermomix (including when we had a dozen people over for a casual meal).

We still have our own gadgets that some of you might find excessive. I have an apple slicer and quarterer. I use it quite a bit. I have a meat thermometer and it’s taken a lot of guess work out of roasting chicken and other meats. I have a julienne slicer that is really unnecessary but a lot of fun for cutting up carrots and cucumbers and zucchini for salads, stir frys and sandwiches. I’m on the brink of buying a blender because I really miss making smoothies.

While I’m not immune to the convenience and fun of kitchen tools (who is?) I just can’t believe that a machine will change my life.

My iPod didn’t change my life.

Neither did my Mac Book.

Oh, and the Garmin running watch that I bought as a birthday gift for my husband but that I now use (thanks honey)… it didn’t change my life either.

Has anyone been sucked into a ‘this will change my life’ tool or piece of electronics? Anyone with dusty bread makers, pizza ovens and crock pots ready to get rid of them this week?

PS. We have an air date for our House Hunters International Episode. It will be on at June 25th at 10:30pm and 1:30am EST on HGTV in the U.S. (no word on when it will air in Canada). From the episode synopsis it looks like they are focusing on my husband’s strange and wonderful career path. If you happen to see it let me know. We won’t get to see it ourselves for a while yet. I’ve been thinking about writing about the experience so keep your eyes peeled for a post on what has to be my favourite reality television show.

Your Possessions Are Not a Hallmark of Adulthood


This post over at Simple Mom about wedding gifts was written for me.

My lovely wedding china that I can’t bear to part with is in a box at a relative’s house. Not getting used.

Sure, the knives and the baking pans traveled with us overseas but the idea of the wedding registry, of collecting a lot of items that would signify the beginning of married life, a lot of things that I thought would mark my entry into adulthood, that idea and aspiration has long since faded.

When I read that Simple Mom post I wished I had known then what I know now:

Owning stuff doesn’t make you an adult.

In my 20’s I watched as my friends got married and bought houses. While I was following my own path, trying to make it to the 2004 Olympics, they were building homes and careers.

I loved what I was doing but I was jealous of what my friends had. The mortgage payments, the home renovations and the retirement plans – it all seemed so adult. I felt like my gypsy existence was a sign of immaturity.

When I explained my lifestyle to non-athletes, the twice yearly cross country moves, the constant search for new apartments and always living with the uncertainty of making or not making a team, I felt like a kid. Who else would sign up for such an unstable and mostly possession-less life?

My dollar store kitchen, the Aerobed I slept on and my mostly spandex wardrobe were signs that I wasn’t an adult.

A mortgage isn’t a sign of maturity.

Eventually I got all the things on the list. The home, the renovations and the employee dental plan. I got married and had the china, the sofa and the Kitchen Aid mixer. I became a parent. I had an interesting job.

I had all the trappings of adulthood and yet, I didn’t feel that adult. I had silly fights with my spouse and went to bed angry. I bought things on credit. I pined for more and better stuff.

Adulthood = Emotional Maturity

As I simplified my possessions I started to feel like an adult. Not necessarily because I had less but because I knew what I needed.

Without the distraction of stuff and the drain of wanting more, I’ve been able to work on really being a grown-up.

Hallmarks of Adulthood:

  1. Delayed gratification: I’ve learned how to save for something, how to wait for something, instead of putting it on a credit card.
  2. Knowing what brings happiness: it’s so easy to confuse the temporary high of a brownie or a new pair of jeans with real happiness. It’s a work in progress (like all of this list) but I’m getting better at finding the root of what gives back to me, more sleep, more time with good friends, more walks in the sunshine, more writing projects that scare me and challenge me.
  3. Less pouting: I’m slowly becoming a better partner to my husband. If we have an argument I’m trying to be more like him: forgiving and ready to apologize and move on.
  4. Giving freely: I don’t keep a scorecard anymore. You know those mental lists of who has done what for each other. Sometimes my husband gets more time on his own than I do on the weekend. Sometimes I get more of that child free time. Still working on this one as I am fiercely aware of who gets to sleep in more. 

You can’t buy any of the above in a store or apply for it from a bank.

You have to work on it, you have to accept that you’ll be less than perfect or even fail sometimes. You have to accept that there is uncertainty in being an adult. That you can’t control others actions or reactions. That it’s a hopefully long and slow road of learning with no real end in sight.

It certainly isn’t as simple as having a checklist of furnishings you want to buy for your den or leasing a new car.

Being an adult isn’t as easy as buying something but it’s infinitely more rewarding.

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